Key facts on physical disability
Physical disability is a limitation on a person's physical functioning, mobility, dexterity or stamina.
Best estimates say that about 10% of Australians have a significant physical disability in any one year (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website and Physical Disability Council of NSW website).
A physical disability can be temporary, short–term or long term. Some conditions may go into remission; others may come and go with no particular pattern, or there may be gradual deterioration.
A person may be born with a physical disability or acquire it later in life through accident, injury, illness or side effects of medical treatment.
Some examples of physical disability include:
- Cerebral palsy
- Spinal cord injury
- Multiple sclerosis
- Spina bifida
- Musculoskeletal injuries (eg back injury)
- Muscular dystrophy
Affects and adjustments
Common affects of physical disability at work
Remember! No two people with the same disability experience the same affects at work!
Employees with disability are not likely to have all the listed disability features OR affects at work! Most people have just a few of those listed; you'll only know by asking the person directly.
Here are some examples of how an employee with a physical disability may be affected at work. They may have difficulties with:
- Accessing workstations, meeting rooms, bathrooms etc
- Manipulating objects, for example handwriting, handling files or using certain tools
- Using a standard computer keyboard or mouse
- Holding a telephone handset
- Travelling to and from work during 'peak hour'
- Medication side effects
Possible workplace adjustments for people with physical disability
The following examples of workplace adjustments are only examples! These examples will not suit everybody.
In each case the best supports in the workplace can only be discovered through conversations between employer, employee and, if needed, a disability specific employment specialist.
Some examples of workplace adjustments that have been used for people with physical disability include:
- Workstation redesign, including provision of appropriate seating, height adjustable work stations etc.
- More frequent and flexible breaks.
- Keeping corridors and walkways clear of obstacles.
- Providing access to accessible lifts, bathrooms, kitchens, meeting rooms etc
- Providing a reserved parking space close to the person's workplace, so that they can rely on using their own private transport.
- Providing assistive technology to help with computer-based work, such as speech recognition software and/or modified IT equipment such as mouse or keyboard.
For more information and suggestions on making workplace adjustments for employees with physical disability visit the government website Job Access.
Tips for communicating with people with physical disability
When meeting together with a person using a wheelchair, make sure you leave a space free for the person to sit at the meeting table.
Let the person know that you are keen to work together to find practical strategies that will allow them to perform their work duties and be a part of the workplace.
Keep questions about the person's disability to the affects at work and what supports can be put in place to accommodate the affects, rather than questions about prognosis, how the person got the disability and/or any other irrelevant personal details.
Remember that there may be aspects of the person's physical disability that affect them at work that are not 'visible' or apparent to others.
Offer discretion and protect the person's privacy.
Make eye contact and speak directly to the person with a disability.
Where possible, sit down to speak with a person using a wheelchair so that you are at the same eye level.